FILE - In this May 17, 2018, file photo, new graduates line up before the start of the Bergen Community College commencement at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. A deadline is fast approaching for teachers, librarians, nurses and others who work in public service to apply to have their student loan debt forgiven. New figures from the U.S. Department of Education show 145,000 borrowers have had the remainder of their debt canceled through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

By Alaina Bookman

With the U.S. Education Department nearing an announcement on a student loan cancellation program, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is advocating for a $50,000 loan cancellation per borrower, a push that will aid millions of borrowers and close the racial wealth gap. Over 40 million Americans are carrying over $1.7 trillion of student loan debt, with communities of color suffering the most. 

“Canceling student debt could help close the racial wealth gap by over 20%,” an ACLU communications strategist said. “This would help secure financial stability and help ensure economic mobility as well for Black, and Latinx and other people of color who are disproportionately burdened by these loans.”

In 2021, the ACLU launched its “Systemic Equality” agenda, which addresses the nation’s legacy of racism and systemic discrimination.That same year, the ACLU partnered with 1000 Women Strong, a national organization led by Black women who advocate for marginalized communities. Black women are disproportionally burdened by student debt, an issue catalyzed by the gender pay and racial wealth gap. 

“The partnership there was to really put Black women at the center of this campaign given that this is the group that’s most burdened by this debt crisis,”  the ACLU said.

By partnering with nonprofit organizations pushing for student debt cancellation, the ACLU is able to apply greater pressure on the Biden administration to follow through with the mass debt cancellation plan. 

Members of the ACLU have sent letters to the Biden administration and national officeholders like Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who are advocates for student debt cancellation. The ACLU also provided recommendations such as enacting a $50,000 debt cancellation as opposed to the original $10,000 as the former can make a more tangible difference.

The ACLU has also started a petition with more than forty-four thousand signatures, urging the Biden administration to act sooner rather than later.

“In an economy where millions of people continue to struggle financially amidst inflation and rising housing and rent prices, it’s beyond frustrating that President Biden has yet to provide a clear answer on student loan forgiveness,” Carlos Moreno, ACLU senior campaign strategist said. 

“It’s long past time for the Biden administration to cancel student debt and give millions of people, especially Black and Latinx borrowers who are disproportionately burdened by student loan debt, clear peace of mind and relief.”